AP Environmental Science Exam: 2021 Results
The following data reflect the 149,106 students worldwide who took either the paper or the digital AP Environmental Science Exam in May. Data from students who tested in June are not yet available.
AP Environmental Science score distributions, 2019 vs. 2021
The following table enables comparisons of student performance in 2021 to student performance on the comparable full-length exam prior to the covid-19 pandemic.
The May 14 In-School Paper Exam
The largest exam date for AP Environmental Science was May 14, so the following information is specific to the exams administered on that date.
As usual, students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions. In fact, the difference between multiple-choice and free-response performance on the AP Environmental Science Exam is the largest of any subject so far this year: on average, in the multiple-choice section students are earning twice as many of the points possible as they’re earning in the free-response section (e.g., students who earned 70% of the possible points in the multiple-choice section only earned 35% of the possible points in the free-response section).
- Course Units:
- AP Environmental Science students’ mastery of Unit 8, Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution, is astonishing, the highest performance on any unit in any subject so far this year. An amazing 64% of students earned virtually perfect scores on questions about this unit.
- Performance is generally very strong across all units, except for Unit 1, Ecosystems. 10% of students were unable to answer more than 1 such question correctly, and if student understanding of this unit were as strong as it was of the other units, scores would have been significantly higher.
- Science Practices:
- Students’ strongest skill was Practice 3, Text Analysis. A massive 71% of students earned perfect scores across all questions that required that practice.
- Many students struggled with questions that required Science Practice 4, analysis of research studies and the design of research methods. 10% of students were unable to answer any such questions correctly.
- Students were also generally weaker at applying Science Practice 6, Mathematical Routines, with fewer correct answers on such questions than on most other multiple-choice categories.
Most students who took the paper exam took one of two different sets of free-response questions. The following information will be specific to Set 2, the set for which I have such details at this point in the process:
- Question 1: Design an investigation related to soil erosion. The average score on this question was 4 out of 10 points possible. Less than 1% of students earned 9–10 points.
- Question 2: The decline of amphibian biodiversity. The average score on this question was 4 out of 10 points possible. Less than 2% of students earned 9–10 points.
- Question 3: Coal and natural gas. The average score on this question was 3 out of 10 points possible. Less than 1% of students earned 9–10 points.
The May 27 Digital Exams
To support student access, different testing modes—paper and digital—were essential. To protect exam security, many different exam versions were necessary. Accordingly, to provide students with similar opportunities for success regardless of which version they took, each version of the exam had to be analyzed separately by psychometricians to identify its unique difficulty level so that standards for scores of 3, 4, and 5 could then be separately identified for each exam version. Analyses focused on:
- Differences in the testing mode (paper or digital). For sections of the exam that proved easier to take digitally, the digital versions require more points for each AP score. For sections of the exam that proved easier to take on paper, the paper exam requires more points for each AP score.
- Differences in the difficulty of specific questions. When exam questions prove easier, more points are required for each AP score, and when exam questions prove more difficult, fewer points are required on one version than another.
- Differences in versions of the exam. The net result for this year’s AP Environmental Science Exams is that out of 130 points possible, some of the digital versions were more difficult than the paper versions, some of the digital versions were easier than the paper version, and some versions were equivalent in difficulty. As a result:
- On the easiest digital version, a student needed to earn 6 more points to receive an AP score of 3 or higher than students who took the paper version.
- On the hardest digital version, a student needed to earn 12 fewer points to receive an AP score of 3 or higher than students who took the paper version.